Navigating A World That Tells You Who You “Should” Be, By Sydney Schulz, AMFT
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
When we are born, we come into the world not understanding much of anything, except to cry when we need to get one of our needs met. Fortunately, our caregivers, others around us, and society teach us everything we need to know to function on this planet. As we grow, we experience conditioning, being rewarded for certain behaviors over others, and socialization, interpreting societal norms and expectations. This process is helpful in many ways, such as learning that it's not acceptable to hit others and that it's expected for us to put on clothes before we go outside. However, conditioning and socialization also leave us susceptible to taking on many thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that do not serve us, and in many ways limit us from being our true selves. Holding on to many false narratives about who we “should” be or what we “shouldn’t” do, can cause a lot of stress and dissatisfaction in our lives, even contributing to experiences of depression and anxiety. Often times we might not even recognize that these limiting beliefs exist or, the extent to which they negatively impact us, because they are functioning from a level that we are not fully aware, our subconscious. You may also have some awareness of your negative thoughts or beliefs but have not been able to break their hold on you for the very fact that you still, to some extent, believe in them. It is not enough to only understand our negative thought patterns, but we must start believing something different about our lives and ourselves, and behaving accordingly, in order to create real change.
Transformation occurs when we begin to question everything. This process can be scary and disorienting. Questioning our beliefs, the stories we’ve told ourselves about our lives, and maybe even our identity is no easy task. This doesn’t mean everything we were taught or believe in is wrong, but we have to be able to take it off, look at it objectively and examine if it is true for us, before we decide to put it back on again. When we do recognize beliefs that are limiting and unhealthy for us, we must replace it with a new belief that serves our true selves, such as “I am worthy of being loved”, or “I am allowed to make choices that are right for me, even if I disappoint others.” Once we begin to replace our old beliefs we must also begin behaving in a way that is congruent and supports our higher beliefs about ourselves. For example, you no longer settle for romantic partners who treat you poorly, or you begin to pursue the career field you are interested in, even if it is not what your parents want you to do.
In a world that is constantly bombarding us with messages about who we need to be or to do in order to be “worthy”, “successful”, “liked”, etc., it is important to interrupt those discourses and define our own values and beliefs that give us the freedom to be ourselves. It is extremely valuable to do this work with the support of a therapist, particularly when you are feeling stuck, stressed, or dissatisfied with your life. Making the decision to work on yourself, to deconstruct your beliefs, and to change your behavior patterns, is an undertaking of great effort and time but the payoff is an invaluable reward.
The author Sydney Schulz, AMFT, is currently accepting new clients and may be contacted by calling 619-272-6858 x716 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org